Are you sick of the call to “groups” from the pulpit of your church? Do you think yourself too busy to add “yet another” item to the ever-expanding calendar of chaos that is your life? I can relate. As I lay in bed, or crash on the couch and endeavor to ponder and prioritze all that needs to be accomplished in a given day, week, or month, it’s easy to find myself overwhelmed. I ask myself – “Why do I need to tie myself to another group of people, some of which I might not even like?”
These are all excellent questions, and some form of these questions, if you are like me, have probably passed through your mind with a cyncial subtitle – “seriously?” And yet it is serious. I’m reminded of Paul’s words in his conversation with Timothy “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (2 Timothy 4:7 NLT) We all fight many fights and wear many hats. Some are more worthwhile than others. I could challenge you to philosophically and spiritually assess the value of the fights/hats you and I engage ourselves in, but I won’t. If we can, let’s just agree that people, no matter who they are, annoying or not, have value. Investing in people in an intentional and authentic fashion is a “good fight” worth fighting. No, not actually fighting, critcizing, condemning, or even making snide, sarcastic remarks. I’m talking about speaking words of life that can encourage and transform the souls of your friends, neighbors, and brothers and sisters in Christ who are smiling yet slipping, slidding, and sinking amidst the oppressive and depressive morass of desperate daily living. I’m talking about those who are trying to live outside of a life-affirming circle of community. I may be talking about you.
While I could cite many, two scriptural images spring to my mind. The first is of Paul in Acts: “Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.” (Acts of the Apostles 14:19-20 NLT) The second is of Jonathan and his armor bearer in 1 Samuel: “Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go (in faith and full of the spirit of The Lord) over to the garrison of these uncircumcised (and offer challenge). It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” And his armor-bearer (life group community) said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul. (I’ve got your back-in prayer and in life.)” (my personal paraphrase of 1 Samuel 14:6-7 ESV) In both situations two heroes of faith illustrate their need for the support and assistance of a life-affirming community. And yes, they were heroes. If they, being such incredible examples of faith and spiritual strength, needed the support of a tight-knit community of faith, what makes you think you/I can survive without membership in such a community? Maybe you are thinking “I wish I could find a community of brothers and sisters, friends or neighbors like that.” Maybe you are cynical because you have tried life groups/small groups/cell groups and been hurt, or come away dissatisfied. It’s true. There is no such thing as a perfect group. There are no pefect people. Life groups are sometimes filled with weird and quirky people who have “issues.” People like yourself and myself. I hate to admit it, but as weird as it sounds, sometimes it’s “the crazies” that have the most potential to impact your life in strange, stark moments of spiritual connectedness.
So what does it take to make “my group” a circle of life-affirming, positive, spiritual energy? Honestly, there are a lot of variables, but let’s start with two: commitment and contribution. Groups that don’t make a commitment to each other are never going to go “to the next level.” Authenticity doesn’t become a reality until bonds of trust are formed, and bonds of trust are not formed among inconsistent individuals. If I don’t show up on a regular basis, I shouldn’t expect to get much out of a life group/small group community. The “inner-circle” of each small group consists of those who commit to each other with a passionate and intentional desire to form a community that will support and sharpen each other. It is only after this commitment is made, at least by some, that people will become authentic, and be willing to take off their armor, strip way their masks, spill tears, and let their secret souls spew forth. Yes, It’s scary. Yes, It’s risky. Sometimes feelings get hurt. But, it is also incredibly worth it to stop being strong, share your soul, and let “your community” share your burden, join in your tears, and link arms and hearts in prayer before God. Jesus famous message: “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:19-20 NLT) holds true for those who dare.
The second element, among many, that I find myself constantly struggling with, is contribution. It’s easy to sit on the side lines and let others expose their secrets without sharing my/your own. Here’s the thing: if you want to personally get something out of your life group/community, you’ve got to put something in. No, bringing something for the “potluck” doesn’t count. Yes, you absolutely should bring something amazing, creative, and tasty for the “food and fellowship” portion of your/my life group. I want to eat it! But, that’s not enough. If you want to be a part of a group that “goes to the next level,” then you will have to sacrifice some of your own pride, and maybe some of your dignity to get there. Share your secret soul, needs, fears, and crises with your group, and watch Jesus appear and perform miracles. It can happen.
Again, let me say it one more time. There are no perfect groups. All groups start on the side of the pool until some people join hands and agree to jump in to the unknown adventure together. Stop cycling between groups looking for “something special” and make an intentional commitment to the group you are already in. When your life group/small group starts to get intentional together and see something special happen, start networking with other groups of like mind and spirit. Spread the flame of community and set your church on fire. Make a commitment and contribute to the conversation. It’s a fight well worth fighting. You will soon discover that membership in a contagious Christian life group/small group community will transform your calendar of chaos into a more enjoyable journey.
Join hands, prepare to get wet/messy, and jump in the pool.